Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2002
The Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8
Sermon: "Do Not Think of Yourself More Highly than You Ought"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Second Reading:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Do Not Think of Yourself More Highly than You Ought
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 1, 2002
From Paul's letter to the Romans we hear these words. "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." These words remind us of the sin of pride and the importance of our relationship one to another.
We all know about pride, but many of us do not associate the sin of pride with God-fearing, card-carrying, faithful attending members of the church. We often see the sin of pride belonging to someone else. Sometimes the person is described as a "Holy Joe" or someone who has the attitude of being "holier than thou". Yet, the sin of pride is often alive and well in our churches. The sin of pride has its root in many forms. Some people believe they are in charge. By some criteria either known or unknown, they have been elevated to the particular position of chief. The criteria may be according to age, tenure, attendance, giving of time or funds, number of responsibilities in the church, or position of the church. Somehow an individual or individuals begin to think of themselves more highly than they ought, and then they have stepped fully into the sin of pride. It is a trap for both the laity and the clergy. For example, when I was a teenager our church did not have a youth group. We had a youth choir. In our youth choir we had four adults to help. The two adult women started to get on each other's nerves. The issue was over who was in charge. Who was the one to help line everyone up, keep everyone still, and sit in the right places in the choir pews? Their struggle came to a head immediately following the main service one Sunday morning. While on the steps of the church at the end of the procession the two ladies squared off. They were still in their robes. They still had their hymnals in their hands. The confrontation did not end until five men physically separated the two women. About the only thing that can be said is that no punches were thrown.
Another example is a poem I read recently about a priest. It is Easter Sunday morning. The priest has a rather elevated opinion of himself. He believes that the people should genuflect and bow as he walks by in the procession. The poem reads that this priest, "had a great temptation as he approached the altar with veneration to turn around and tell that Easter crowd their heads should be not up, but bowed, for had they forgotten that as he went by they should genuflect and groan and sigh since he was a Priest of their risen Lord he too should be acknowledged and adored" (The Vicar's Verses, 1996). However, this priest was caught short. A child had a sling in the church and let a stone fly. The stone hit the priest just above the ear, which got everyone's attention. Now, I know we might all be thinking how did the child get into the church with a sling and a rock. Well, I don't know how, but according to the author of the poem a major change occurred in the priest and the crowd that day. Sometimes revelation comes in strange and unusual ways.
One final story about pride occurred at a youth meeting. The youth minister was being chastised for visiting all of the youth in the parish. Some of the adults on the youth commission were not happy with the visitations. They wanted to know why the youth minister was wasting time visiting children who did not attend church on a regular basis. The youth minister asked one of the parents, "If I only visit those who come, what do you want me to do if your child stops attending regularly?"
The sin of pride exhibited in the church is deadly. It causes unnecessary pain. It creates a hidden hierarchy. It promotes division and destroys community. Pride is the sin that is usually, not always, but usually the center of most church fights. Church fights are horrible. No one wins. Everybody loses. So, what can we do about this sin of pride? How do we address it in ourselves?
Paul gives us a clue. He reminds us that we are all part of one body. As a part of the body we all have gifts. These gifts vary according to each person. Some of the gifts he identifies are: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. There is no order to the gifts and these are not the only gifts we could have. Paul's important points are:
1. We all have gifts.
2. The gifts vary from person to person.
3. All of these gifts are necessary in the community of the Body of Christ.
We use all of these gifts to God's glory and not to our own. Through the use of our gifts we deepen our love for God and we learn how interconnected we are with one another. No one has all the gifts necessary for the community. Have we ever thought to ask the question why did Jesus choose so many disciples? Jesus chose many disciples for the variety of gifts. Community is the key. The moment we begin to believe we can make it on our own we are lost. The moment we begin to believe our gifts are more important than someone else's we are lost. The moment we begin to think we are more important than anyone else in the church we are stepping away from our gifts and into the sin of pride.
Paul gives us an opportunity here. We have an opportunity to examine ourselves and see how we are faring. Are we like the choir members who argued outside the church? Can we see ourselves like the priest before he was hit with the rock? Are we sometimes like the parents who want to determine who gets a visit by attendance at church? If we see ourselves in those veins at times we just might require a little change. In closing I refer again to the poem about the priest who was hit with the stone. The end of the poem is:
"So I guess the moral of this fable is to remember we're all a bit unstable, and in church we'd better be more humble and not to pride or whimsy fall or tumble, whether one's ordained or just plain folk there's nothing wrong with an Easter joke, in fact our young David with his little stone cut our Goliath's pride right to the bone."
"Come ye faithful, raise the strain, help us Lord not to be a pain!"